When I say that Guatemala is a colorful country, I mean that literally. The descendants of the Maya pride themselves on their weaving, and the women turn out in the most elaborate and wonderful clothes. I am not at all an expert on this topic, but thought I’d post some of my pictures here, accompanied by what little I know about the weaving.
First: what it’s like in a real Guatemalan market. This is market day in the town of Solola, near the town of Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan. “Pana” is touristy, but the market is not, probably because it sells basics for locals rather than trinkets. In my several hours in the Friday market (the locals always wear their finest on market day), I saw not one other tourist. (Click on the photos to see detail of the clothes.)
Traditionally each village had its own design of women’s blouse (the huipil), so you could instantly identify her residence from her clothes. This appears to be disappearing. The three women below sport different designs, but I have no idea if they’re from the same place:
These women, however, are wearing the traditional huipil of Solola:
The men of Solola are unusual in still retaining woven rather than European-derived clothes, although the style clearly comes from ladinos. These are the famous “space cowboy” clothes (also called “bat suits”) of males from the village. The apron is Mayan:
It’s clear from Mayan drawings that weaving of colored cotton clothes has been a going concern for over a thousand years. And the method of weaving has remained largely identical. Women weave their squarish tops, or huipiles, on a backstrap loom, a small portable loom that’s fastened around the waist. Here’s a photo of one (not my picture):
Traditionally, each woman wove her own outfit, although this tradition is disappearing. The huipil is often complemented by a head-cloth (also woven on the backstrap) and by a tie-dyed skirt (this technique was independently invented in India and Indonesia). Tie-dyed items are woven by men on the more recently invented treadle loom. Note that since many weavers cannot read (a situation that is changing), all of these patterns are passed on by learning, and are kept in the head. There are no written instructions!
Here are some huipiles I photographed in private homes and in the Ixil Textile Museum in Guatemala City:
This geometric design, with animals, is my favorite; it comes from the regions of Guatemala where the language Ixil is spoken:
One way to display your collection:
Some details. The flowery design is perhaps the most famous in Guatemala, and comes from the village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, near Antigua:
And in case you’d like to buy a weaving, you’ll need a lot of time to choose your style and bargain for it. Here’s one stall in the Antigua market. Prices are reasonable: huipiles start at about eighteen dollars (150 quetzales), and go way high, especially for older designs and those made with silk or natural dyes. Considering the time taken to create these garments, that’s a real bargain.
The weavings of Guatemala, and the hospitable people who wear them, are two of the many attractive things about the country. In the next couple of days I’ll describe the biology and the landscape.